It was E3 this week. Studios announced several interesting new games, reiterations of old games and franchises, provided free-to-play demos (some of which are still available at the time of writing this), and produced content on the show floor. These games and the culture that surrounds the E3 conference are particularly interesting in the context of archaeogaming. It Is not only in the new releases and the games with interesting an immediate archaeological potential but also on the show floor.
Physical Space and Twitch
Archaeogaming does not just cover the physical games themselves and the digital worlds that are created but also in the physical manifestations of games and the gaming community. It is in this light that different cultural occasions which encompass gaming news and culture can be examined. Gaming events, such as E3, are cultural phenomenon which should be categorized as historical events which provide numerous archaeological artifacts to be studied in the future.
I remember almost a decade ago now that one of the only ways to learn about gaming news such as E3 was via online news sources and the G4 channel. While this channel is but a memory, it in itself represents something historical. G4 was the Geek channel. Yes, it played re-runs of Cops, but its presentation of the geek culture has lasted. One of the major shows that G4 played was a Ninja Warrior, a Japanese game show about the agility and physical strength. Ninja Warrior was later picked up by NBC as an American game show which still airs new seasons each year. The one of the other notable events that G4 did was to live stream coverage of geek culture events, specifically their 12 hour a day coverage of San Diego Comic Con. Instead today without G4, we can watch Live coverage of these events on Twitch, the online live-streaming service.
With this change in the landscape of gaming and geek culture, archaeogamers can study to social and cultural shifts of gaming and the gaming community. While live streaming of events like E3 and San Diego comic con have become normal parts of the gaming and entertainment landscape, this is the first time what I have seen multiple game studios live streaming activities at their booths. Of particular note is Ubisoft, who, while also providing look at gameplay and interviews, provided on screen sign language translation. These streams can and should be archived and seen as historical documentation of this particular event. Additionally, the inclusion and presentation of each company and development studio on the show floor should be noted as archaeological artifacts in and of themselves. Booth swag, merchandise, and gaming rigs for live demos present some of the artifacts at these conventions and events.
Developer Presentations and Announcements
Stepping away from the archaeology of conventions and, more specifically of E3 itself, there were several games and concepts at the showcases an individual developer presentations that stood out to me as archaeologically interesting. The Microsoft Xbox showcase provide a look at the much-anticipated game Cyberpunk 2077. Andrew Reinhard pointed out the interesting take on Cyberpunk 2077 as heritage futurism. I think that Cyberpunk 2077 can be viewed in the light of how we currently think of the future and how we think about the world in today’s culture. It also speaks to the current situation in video game voiceover and acting where the current trend seems to be designing a body model after the actor. Lindsay Ellis, a film studies YouTuber, has analyzed a similar trend in voiceover acting for Disney animations and cartoons. She claims that instead of relying on voiceover talent, Disney, and other animation studios began to turn to prominent on screen actors in the 1980s and 1990s [https://youtu.be/nyiBdccfNkg]. I suggest that the inclusion of Keanu Reeves in Cyberpunk 2077 showcases a similar trend in the digital games industry–which been on the rise since motion-capture (mo-cap) has become more common.
In the Bethesda presentation, there were several aspects that stood out to me. First we see increasing trend towards mobile gaming with Elder Scrolls iterations for smartphones and for the Nintendo Switch. This being in Elders Scrolls game there is plenty of material to be studied archaeologically. Another thing was the continued support and release of their two MMOs: Elder Scrolls Online and Fallout 76. Bethesda’s acceptance of the angry fan-base from Fallout 76 and its many problems at initial launch suggests several socioeconomic conclusions—one of which leading me to ask whether or not the problems at launch of Fallout 76 may have been due to video game crunch. But the addition of new content Fallout 76 and for the Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) suggests a greater need for research on and the presence of a loyal and persistent online community surrounding these games. It also begs the question of whether or not fans, or Bethesda themselves, have created an archive of the older versions of these games. As each new iteration, patch, and DLC is released, a new digital layer of the archaeological context is added. In order to dig into the game and understand historical and archaeological background, an archive with each version is necessary for current and future research on ESO and Fallout 76.
As far as Ubisoft, there was a specific interest to me in the Watchdogs: Legions announcement. While I have not played the first Watchdogs game, the ability to play and recruit anyone in the game as a member of your team was intriguing. For the purposes of virtual heritage—that is the [re]creation of a historical site or period of history in a virtual environment—the ability to code each NPC as a different person (or different enough to be considered its own entity) means that in creating virtual heritage a developer could effectively re-create several specific historical individuals and generate properties for other NPCs. In the coming months, I hope that we learn whether or not is it unique NPCs are generated procedurally or if each individual was coded to have certain behaviors. Clearly the latter option is likely the more difficult and arduous option. So in a world where a game generates a large number of non-player character behaviors (or potential player characters) virtual heritage developers may be able to create more lifelike situations and historic events in the future.
Continuing with Ubisoft’s announcements, this study of military style games as a generation of the current culture is clearly evident when looking at the multitude of new Tom Clancy games. In Video Games and Education [Brown 2008], the author points out that is a military style shooters are evidence of current cultural values and ideas about the military and war. The Tom Clancy games are some of the most pronounced demonstrations of this culture around war. A refreshed analysis of this concept with the new Tom Clancy games as announced in this year’s E3 would be an interesting study for archaeogaming.
With the announcement discovery tour and story creator mode for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, the digital game, like with Origins, can effectively teach individuals about Ancient Greece and the specific creative choices that the Odyssey team made which may deviate from history or archaeological evidence. Additionally, the story creator mode allows fans and educators to create their own stories and quests, which can be harnessed to allow players to live and participate through Ancient Greek history via Kassandra or Alexios. This provides an opportunity for the study of how edutainment can be better harnessed and used for the more effective and affective teaching of history. The discovery tour also serves as a record for what the Odyssey team may have added that was not necessarily historically or archaeological the most accurate while providing insight an understanding of what the historic and material record show. At the end, Ubisoft announced a new game called Gods and Monsters created by the same individuals behind Assassins Creed Odyssey which explorers Greek mythology. Though little more detail was provided about this project, it provides an exciting new archaeological, historical, and educational avenues for archaeogaming studies and I cannot wait to learn more and see the game.
Nintendo Direct provided several interesting announcements, one of which being the newest Animal Crossing. The game that turns doing menial tasks into fun now allows for a spectrum of race, ethnicity, and gender options for player characters—something which an Animal Crossing game has not done before. In looking at games as historical documents and archaeological materials, this is a transitional moment in inclusivity for gamers and can be used as an example of the changing cultural values and societal norms in, not only the gaming community, but the world as a whole. Additionally, this game can be studied in multiple other ways by archaeogamers. Digging up of fossils and partaking with the art dealer, Redd, can be interpreted as looting and antiquities trade, something which can be studied in various different ways by the archaeogamer. For example, what is the public perception of this sketchy art dealer and antiquities trader? Will Redd and the museum be a character and subject in the newest installment in the Animal Crossing franchise? The potential for studies on perception and presentation of antiquities and archaeology is vast. We can look at the spaces and how different players set up their homes and towns in the creation of roads and house upgrades. Archaeogamers can study the random generation of towns as a sort of machine-generated cultural landscape as Andrew Reinhard has demonstrated with the No Man’s Sky archaeological project. The landscape also shows where villagers used to live when they move out of the town for whatever reason. Archaeogaming studies can explore this sort of environmental and archaeological impact of people on the virtual landscape.
While this is only a highlight of what I noticed and what stuck out to me as important in terms of archaeogaming at E3, there are many directions for the study of the archaeology in (and of) digital games. Some of these explorations will have to wait for several months until the games are released (this provides time to formulate research questions and hypotheses!). For now, archaeogaming has a lot of material to work with and study in the digital and analogue gaming realms, new and old, and AAA and indie.
—Kaitlyn Kingsland, Archaeogaming
14 June 2019